Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spoon, Robert Randolph, The Zombies, Suzanne Vega, & More Rock the Union County Music Fest (PHOTOS)

The Union County Music Fest in Clark, NJ has got to be one of the best-kept secrets in the NYC area as far as free music festivals go. As I wrote the other day, the 2010 UC Music Fest this past weekend had a great lineup, and I caught Sunday's show with Spoon, Robert Randolph, The Zombies, Nils Lofgren, Suzanne Vega, and more.

One surprisingly good act was the first one I saw Sunday, the Nils Lofgren "acoustic duo." I've long been a fan of Lofgren (above), but wondered if a two-man acoustic lineup could convey the power of his more rocking tunes.

Not to worry: Lofgren's guitar playing and voice did the songs justice, and his sideman (whose name I didn't catch) did a fine job not only on keyboard but on percussion: tap dancing on a wooden platform. Nils also took a couple turns hoofing it on the boards (who knew Lofgren could tap dance?)

I've seen Suzanne Vega (above) in concert more than almost any other performer, and part of the reason is because she never disappoints. Her UC Music Fest set with longtime collaborators Mike Visceglia (bass) and Gerry Leonard (guitar) was no exception.

It showed her range from moving stories in spare acoustic arrangements in several songs from her first album, "Suzanne Vega" (which came out 25 years ago), to the bossa nova of "Caramel," the industrial sounds of "Blood Makes Noise," and her collaboration with Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse, "The Man Who Played God."

The Zombies (above), that influential rock band from the 1960s, are still around? I had no idea until I saw them on the Music Fest's lineup. They're celebrating their 50th anniversary and are even working on a new album (due in 2011). They put on a good set of original Zombies songs and tunes the band recorded, as well as songs by keyboardist Rod Argent's group, Argent (including the hits "Hold Your Head Up" and "God Gave Rock and Roll to You.")

New Jersey's own Robert Randolph (above) and the Family Band got the crowd moving and shaking off the chill of the cool, wet afternoon. Randolph said it was good to be back home, and to know that the Giants won that afternoon. Yes indeed.

Austin's Spoon was back in the tri-state area to close the festival (above: Rob Pope and Britt Daniel). This was the band most people came to see (though Robert Randolph had a good-sized crowd, too). Spoon played a one-hour-plus set that included many of the same tunes as their recent sets at Madison Square Garden (opening for Arcade Fire), with an emphasis on their latest album "Transference" and its predecessor "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga."

The Music Fest featured a smaller stage for up-and-coming acts, and I liked the one band I saw: Brooklyn's A Million Years (three of four members above). (Unlike many Brooklyn bands, most of these actually grew up in the borough). They've been playing together for many years, it seems, and it showed. They had a solid, tight sound as they played tunes from their debut album "Mischief Maker," including the catchy title tune.

A Million Years will be playing a couple of gigs at next month's CMJ in New York and a show with Jesse Malin in the East Village.

The Union County Music Fest offered an amazing lineup for a free show, and getting in and out of the even was surprisingly hassle free. This is an event I'll definitely put on my calendar for next year.

No comments :